When I was about 15 my school friend’s family took off to the NSW coast and set up a caravan park near Bermagui.
One summer I went up to work at the park, stocking the shop in the morning and making hamburgers and fish and chips in the evening. The next year my family began an annual pilgrimage to set up camp around the lake for the long holidays over Christmas and into the New Year.
For that short time, in between flipping burgers and perfecting a teenage suntan, I painted and drew over the summers. I made pictures of Camel Rock and Mt Dromedary, the lake and rolling landscape with fallen down shacks and the historic buildings in Tilba. I even managed to sell a couple of paintings to holiday makers. Sometimes I’d be asked to draw portraits and made some extra pocket money from that.
But this post isn’t about me…
Over time more family friends joined the journey to Lake Wallaga and one of the gang of kids who formed the extended family compound was Dave Murphy. He was always into everything and occasionally wore his Dad down to desperate levels. We would secretly wait for the exasperated, drawl of “Bloody hell, David!” when another calamity of Dave’s creative antics or inquisitive distraction left entangled fishing lines or a pile of wet clothes at the door of the caravan.
We all loved Dave – not only because he looked like a little Tolkien elf, but because he had the most beautiful nature. He was a cheeky, adventurous and quietly funny kid but he was also thoughtful and patient and, best of all for me, he didn’t mind sitting still to let me paint his portrait over a couple of days one summer.
Although I knew nothing really about painting, let alone using oil paints for a portrait, I still feel that this managed to capture David’s thoughtful gaze. I also think I left it alone at just the right point.
Like many beautiful kids who get to grow up to explore the outdoors, Dave grew into a beautiful man. Although we all knew Dave was a one off individual, we have an unspoken collective pride that he became a sculptor and one of a select group of contemporary artists that leaves you in awe.
David’s work is exquisitely studied – an intersection of mixed materials – timber, steel, glass, wire, fabric. Many are substantial pieces and most invite an interaction and exchange with urban spaces or the natural environment. There is also the playful and experimental in his sound installations, including the extraordinary Sound Forest, that gives a hint back to the elfin boy.
We were so happy to see David a little while ago and be given a tour of his studio. One of his latest works is a totally sculpted bicycle. It is completely hollow and as light as an engineered racing bike. It is a functioning work of art and I know you want one.
Photo – Peter Horsley
His commissioned works also follow a form of natural engineering – making steel appear as light as flower stems – as in his Unfurling Fibonacci, which won the People’s Choice Award in the 2004 Helen Lempriere National Sculpture Award.
David’s public works are more grounded and robust but continue to tell the story of his fascination with and consideration of the elements and natural mathematics. His Raphael Stones form a celestial calendar that marks the sunrise and sunsets on the equinoxes, and the summer and winter solstices, as well as true north and south.
Meeting his family again recently was also a joy. The youngest – a pixie this one – co-opted my i-phone and gleefully took selfies and downloaded games with energetic delight. The next generation of experimenters has arrived.
David Murphy Photo Portrait by Jem Selig Freeman
Dad and I Selfie by the next young artist